Silicon Assets

by Charlie Skelton

Is This the Bilderberg or the Circle K Behind My House?
Where does true power reside? Is it waving at you from a stage-lit, Presidentially-sealed podium? Or tucked away inside a billionaire’s wallet? Can you smell it in a mahogany-clad clubroom at Yale in the smoke of a Bonesman’s cigar, or catch a glimpse of its dark feathers perching on the advisory council of a transnational bank? One thing we know for sure: the nature and location of power is changing, and the agents of that change are the Californian technology companies that have the taken the 21st century by the throat.

A revolution in “connection technologies” means we are entering what executive chairman at Google, Eric Schmidt, calls “a new age of shared power.” New power dynamics will be played out within what he calls “the interconnected estate,” a realm in which, soon enough, humans will be sharing power, policies, and influence not just with each other, but with increasingly intelligent computers.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence is set to change everything: the dynamics of power and politics for starters, but beyond that, the nature of life itself. “We are just at the beginning of this infinite journey,” gushes PayPal founder and AI enthusiast Peter Thiel, as he announces his intention to live forever. Thiel sits on the board of Facebook, a company “on a mission to connect the world,” and one of the biggest investors in AI. Meanwhile, over at Google’s DeepMind project, British specialist Demis Hassabis, is working to unravel “the deepest mysteries of the mind.” Hassabis wants to create Artificial Intelligence in order to “solve intelligence and use it to solve everything else.”

Solve everything, connect everyone, live forever: the time for humble ambitions is past. The mood of the day is summed up in the triumphant howl that echoes from Google’s R&D department, when the former head of DARPA, Regina Dugan, swallows a microchip in a pill that turns her body into a digital authentication device, and cries: “My first superpower!”

Grandiose ambitions and the promise of fantastic new powers, but what about the old power structures? The old money? The beating heart of the old Anglo-American Empire is the City of London. Ever since the East India Company controlled half the world’s trade, London has been a nexus of global finance, and the Square Mile is still home to over 40% of the world’s foreign exchange market: a gob-smacking $2.67 trillion in daily trades.

To this day, the City remains on the cutting edge of digital trading, happily blowing up shiny new virtual bubbles, and devising newfangled financial instruments, yet its power lies in a hoary old formula: the extreme concentration of wealth by the extremely few. The suits may be sharper and the phones faster, but it’s no different in structure from ancient Egypt.

The traditional means of maintaining your position “inside” the circle of power is to protect your boundary at all costs. The same tactic is used by banking cartels, elite policy groups, Chinese politburos, and secret societies: guard the walls.

For example, Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club—a notorious private dining society, depicted on the big screen as The Riot Club, and through whose puke-splashed portals have crawled such eminent individuals as the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his loyal Chancellor, George Osborne.

Membership requires some very expensive tailoring, but before you’re allowed to don the splendid trousers and spatter them with champagne vomit, you have to be selected and initiated. The rituals of initiation include having to burn a £50 note in front of a beggar, which must be some comfort to the beggar, who can think, “I may be homeless but at least I’m not a giant arse.”

The whole thing has an old-school vibe: the trousers may be splendid, but they’re thoroughly retro. There’s a kind of Cecil Rhodes imperialist air to the proceedings: these are the chosen few, the mighty protectors of Empire, roaring like young lions, before wiping the cocaine stains off their chinless faces with a terrified waitress’s bra, and going out into the world to stake their claim on power.

And some make it. Cameron and Osborne graduated from Bullingdon Club into Westminster, and then scrabbled even higher up the ladder to the Bilderberg Group. If the City of London is the beating heart of Empire, Bilderberg is its brain. Founded in 1954, this private society is one of the most venerable, powerful and secretive policy forums in the world.

The Bilderberg Group’s annual three day conference is held in heavily armed privacy. Helicopters circle overhead, and snipers line the roof-tops. It’s attended by about 130 corporate CEOs, industrialists, prime ministers, presidents, princes, and senior figures from NATO, the IMF, the EU, and even the NSA. Six British Prime Ministers and two U.S. Presidents have made the list (usually before they’ve taken office). Spy chiefs, media moguls, billionaires, queens and bank bosses—and for the last several years, a significant influx of some of the biggest names in California tech.

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel, the philosopher-king of the technosphere, has taken a seat on the 35-member inner “steering committee” of Bilderberg, where alongside him sits his protégé Alex Karp, the CEO of Palantir Technologies, and Craig Mundie, the former head of research at Microsoft. Mundie was the first of the crowd to be allowed past the velvet rope, back in 2003.

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and Eric Schmidt of Google, have both become conference regulars. Schmidt brought along Google’s AI expert Hassabis and transhumanist apostle Dugan to attend this year’s conference in Austria, where “artificial intelligence” and “cybersecurity” were high on the agenda.

It pays to look closely at how Silicon Valley, Bilderberg, and AI fit together. On a practical level, AI offers enormous opportunities for everything from the commercial exploitation of data, the profiling of citizens/shoppers, and political control, so it obviously flutters the skirts of the Bilderberg bigwigs, whether they run HSBC, BP, the NSA, or Her Majesty’s Treasury. But the AI/Bilderberg symbiosis rests upon something deeper: the shared ideology of globalization—an ideology that resembles nothing less than a spiritual quest.

Since day one, Bilderberg’s “high priests of globalization” (as the writer and academic Will Hutton dubbed them) have been pushing for “the internationalization of business.” And working out the “practical steps towards better global governance.”

The ideology of globalization perceives otherness as an evil to be overcome. Constantly merging and acquiring, dominating and consolidating, to the point of singularity. As the industrialist John D. Rockefeller, one of globalization’s great motivating spirits, is supposed to have said: “Competition is a sin.” Peter Thiel updates this maxim for the 21st century, when he declares: “Competition is for losers.” He prefers instead “monopoly,” which he calls “the condition of every successful business.”

Digital technology has already proved to be a powerful tool for globalization. Facebook in particular. “One world” is the last of the ten “Facebook Principles,” which begins: “the Facebook Service should transcend geographic and national boundaries.” The Internet, like global capital, and global brands, is transnational. It is, says Eric Schmidt: “the ultimate globalizing force.”

Already the Internet is growing, as Schmidt puts it, into a “global mind.” A singular consciousness. Soon, says Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, “we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology.” There’ll be no barriers to thought because there’re no barriers to information.

Many believe we’re headed towards a technological singularity, in which we become so interconnected, and our world so “smart” that we eventually merge with the technology that is connecting us. Before long “the Internet will disappear” predicts Schmidt. It will become one with the world around us: “there will be so many IP addresses...so many devices, sensors, things that you are wearing, things that you are interacting with that you won’t even sense it. It will be part of your presence all the time.”

All of which sees us moving towards a singular, boundary-free, interconnected, transnational, suprahuman “one world.” A kind of globalization 2.0, in which not just trade, financial systems and political structures are globalized, but humans and the earth itself are merged.

As all our boundaries—commercial, national, cultural, physical—explode, we are left with just one final frontier to overcome: death. Peter Thiel has declared it a moral “absolute” to try and overcome mortality, which he describes as “the great enemy” of humanity. He’s pumping tens of millions into biomedical research and developing machine intelligence in order “to overcome the state of nature” and lengthen life.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Thiel in the fight against death is the futurist Ray Kurzweil—the sultan of the singularity—who has been hired by Google to work on AI. Kurzweil foresees, in the not too distant future, “the merger of the vast knowledge embedded in our own brains with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our technology.”

The end point of this integration process is hard to predict, but Kurzweil thinks that, in time, “the matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublime forms of intelligence.” The singularity will spread to everything, and in a mystical flash of Hegelian self-awareness, a supremely intelligent (and singular) smart-universe will come into being: “the universe will become sublimely intelligent and wake up.”

All of which brings us to a bright and shining sticking point between the singular dreams of California tech and the globalist dreams of Bilderberg. Bilderberg’s globalism is based upon an ultimate duality: there’s no “global governance” without the globally governed. We’re talking about a very unsingular and traditional power structure here: an asymmetric duality between the owners and the owned; the controllers and the controlled. Likewise, monopoly implies duality; Google doesn’t exist without people outside Google using it.

Fundamental to Bilderberg, like any closed group or secret society, is the idea of disconnection, of boundaries: the strictly-policed barrier to entry, the secrecy, the hierarchy, the heavily-guarded differentiation between self and other,  inside and outside; the splendid trousers of Bullingdon that only a select few can wear. But hierarchy simply doesn’t work if we’re all plugged into the same singularity, any more than personality does, or elitism. Barriers don’t work when it’s “Skynet,” singular. Like death or nirvana, a fully interconnected AI is the great leveller.

The elite may be hoping to hoard the AI super-empowerment for themselves, and maintain the firewall between “them and us” to soar away, into a God-like superhumanity on the wings of machine intelligence—but that’s making the gigantic assumption that their personalities can survive the merger. It might be a bit like a banana hoping to merge with a gorilla, or a mouse wanting to merge with a freight train. It might manage it, and find its limitations exploded, but the freight train won’t notice the bump.

It says something about the titanium egos of some of these people that they don’t feel their minds are under threat from the merger. Perhaps they hope to augment their way to immortality, and then stop the technology in its tracks? Bring down the barrier at the last minute? Exist forever on some kind of partitioned sub-cloud of consciousness, remaining distinctly human in the face of an ever more encompassing AI. Good luck with that.

What happens if we extend the timescale long enough, and AI—as seems inevitable—becomes more powerful than humans? We’re being warned about this danger by, amongst others, Elon Musk of Space X—perhaps Los Angeles’ most prominent tech icon, and Thiel’s former colleague at PayPal. When he’s not busy conquering space, transforming energy storage, or proposing we swap our aeroplanes for a hyperloop, he’s telling us that AI is “potentially more dangerous than nukes” and warns: “with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.”

And it’s not just Musk; Stephen Hawking—who knows a thing or two about human-machine integration—has warned that with our “slow biological evolution” humankind “would be superseded” by Artificial Intelligence. Even Demis Hassabis, heading up “the Apollo programme of AI”—Google’s DeepMind project—has joined the chorus of concern, co-signing a letter warning of the danger of an AI arms race.

Musk fears we might be: “just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable.” How likely is it that a human, however augmented, is going to get a seat at the table when—relatively—we’re about as intelligent as the chair leg. Suddenly there’s a new power dynamic in town, and the billionaires of Bilderberg might find themselves lumped in with “us” on the weedy end of “them and us”—sorry guys, join the club.

Under these circumstances, burning a 50 pound note in a tramp’s face seems about as meaningful as a snail farting on a worm. We’re all just wriggling in the same mud. That “swoosh” you just heard, passing by at a billion miles an hour? That was evolution. And not yours.

I’m sure these guys have read their Machiavelli: “One must be a fox to recognize traps.” Yet it’s entirely possible that by opening their arms to the evangelists of AI—with their phantasmagoric dreams of a global mind and transhumanist immortality—the  transatlantic  elite  have  invited  a  Silicon  Horse  into  their  inner  sanctum. Bilderberg, you have  been warned.

See Companion Piece: The Digital Horror. The Digital Hoarder?

TAGS